Being a producer in hip-hop is a hard job. Staying relevant and fresh with your sounds and being able to work with an ever changing crop of emcees is no easy task. Very few producers have ever survived the long run. That number gets smaller when you think of crews of producers. To blend not just your sounds and ideas, but personalities with others for a long period of time sounds impossible.
After a short convo about some of the great production collectives in hip-hop, I decided to pen a list of my top 5 production crews in hip-hop history. Each crew was different and had their own impact on the culture at their time. They brought something so dope and new that others had to copy in order to stay alive.
Big-up to these 5 crews who made a lasting impression on me and my hip-hop journey.
When you think of Bad Boy you have to think of the Hitmen. What Diddy (then Puff Daddy) did when he put together that crew of awesome producers was something great.
D-Dot Angelettie, Stevie J, Amen Ra, Chucky Thompson, Nashiem Myrick and later Young Lord could’ve stood on their own as a producer. Instead, they were able to check their egos at the door for the greater good of the label and the music.
For a period of 8 years, this crew delivered gold and platinum hits for the likes of The Notorious B.I.G, Mary J Blige, Puff and more. After the original crew went their separate ways, Puff tried to recreate the magic they made together with hit and miss results. What you can’t forget is that when they were hot, they had no peers. They truly made an era their own.
Discography: Puff Daddy “No Way Out,” Notorious B.I.G “Ready To Die” and “Life After,” Mase “Harlem World,”
Beats By The Pound
No Limit records were known for two things, crazy artwork and hard hitting producers. You can thank Mo.B.Dick and Beats By The Pound for the latter. The crew behind hits like, “Make Em Say Ughh,” “Ice Cream Man,” It Aint My Fault,” and more, redefined the south when it came to production. Hard hitting drums, 808′s and that grimey, street feel were the trademarks of the crew. Like the Hitmen, they delivered a lot of gold and platinum plaques for their General. Unlike the Hitmen, most of their greatness remained in-house.
That might be part of the reason why the crew would later separate from No Limit . After changing their name to The Medicine Men, the continued to make hits for others like Ludacris (“Move Bitch“), but to me it was never the same.
They were never as popular without the tank, and P has never been the same without them. Whether you remember them as Beats By The Pound or The Medicine Men, you will never forget what they meant to hip-hop and the south.
Discography: “Bout It, Bout It,” “Ice Cream Man,” “It Aint My Fault,” “Make Em Say Ughh,” “Down 4 My Niggaz”
On his early albums, Jay passed off the production duties to the likes of Dj Premier, Dj Clark Kent, The Hitmen and more. It wasn’t until he put together Just Blaze, Kanye West, that the Roc began to make real history. The combination of the two created soulful tracks that could easily fit in radio rotation as well as bump hard in barbershops through out the hood!
Blaze and West accounted for many of the hit records that came out of the Roc-A-Fella camp in the from 1999-2003. Beanie Sigel, Memphis Bleek and Cam’ron all benefited from the new sounds that Just Blaze and Ye were creating on a regular basis. It was their work on Jay’s classic album, “The Blueprint” that made them household names.
Both producers have become legends in their own rights, but for a short period of time, they were a hard team to beat.
Discography: “The Blueprint”
James Poysner, J Dilla, ?uestlove and Roy Hargrove, . Need I say more? The reason there was ever something called, “neo-soul,” was because of The Soulquarians.
When music was becoming too pop’ish, they brought the soul back to R&B and hip-hop with live instrumentation that couldn’t be rivaled by anyone. To be able to craft hits for a wide array of artists from Common to D’Angelo is saying something. They created a lane where one was needed and gave people a reason to love music again.
And they weren’t just a collective of producers. The crew also included Badu, Bilal, D’Angelo and Talib Kweli. Creativity was everywhere the Soulquarians were and they still rock to this day. RIP J Dilla.
Discography: The Roots “Things Fall Apart,” D’Angelo “Voodoo,” Common “Electric Circus”
What would pop-hop be without The Neptunes? Pharrell and Chad Hugo handed off hit records to everyone from Jay-Z to Brittney Spears. What other duo could easily slide from making “What” for Nore to “Slave” for Brittney and make both radio worthy smashes. Their trademark sound came from their synthesizers and crazy drum patterns. Add Pharrell on the hook and you got an automatic hit record.
Their unorthodox sound inspired many new producers today like Tyler, The Creator to flourish. Even their work as N.E.R.D has been groundbreaking. Whether you like them or not, The Neptunes are underrated as a duo that can never forgotten for what they brought to the game.
Discopraphy: “The Neptunes presents…The Clones,” “Frontin,” “Blow Your Mind,” “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” “Milkshake”
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Timeless Sounds: Top 5 Hip-Hop Production Crews Of All-Time